EXCLUSIVE: The 10 months spent in prison was the toughest time in my life, says Tommy Oosthuizen
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WARNING: For mature audiences only, strong language follows
JOHANNESBURG - It has been two years and a bit since Thomas Oosthuizen was last in the boxing ring.
Back then he lost to Russia's Aleksey Egorov in a failed attempt at winning the vacant IBF International Cruiserweight title. In those last 27 months or so, the former multiple IBO champion has been "to hell and back" and the boxer fondly referred to as ‘Tommy Gun’ is doing his damnedest to return to the heavenly realms of ring glory.
Oosthuizen is back in the gym, having teamed up with VIP Boxing Club’s Harry Ramogoadi following his release from prison, where he'd spent 10 months after being found guilty of assault with the intention to do grievous bodily harm. And while their immediate goal is to simply get him back boxing, long term they are dreaming big.
"The main objective is to hopefully get an opportunity to get into the ring with Canelo (Alvarez) for his title. I know that coach Harry here says he has not produced a world champion yet. But I know he has it in him to do so and I want to be that champion for him. It will take a lot of work but I believe we can do it," Oosthuizen says with the sincerity of a man on a mission.
It is a pretty ambitious goal, but one that both boxer and trainer believe is attainable. Whether it happens or not, the fact that Oosthuizen is able to fight again is, in itself, admirable. This, after all, is a man who had been written off by many and literally kicked to the curb because of his wayward behaviour outside the gym and boxing ring.
So countless were Tommy Gun's misdemeanours that the moniker "Bad Boy of SA Boxing" fitted him nicely.
That he ended up in jail didn't surprise many. But then again didn't Mike Tyson also spend time behind bars?
It's a boxing thing, right?
Like Iron Mike, Tommy Gun found himself during incarceration.
"I didn't become a Muslim, even though I am going out with a Muslim girl," Oosthuizen laughs in response to a question about what other similarities are there to the self-styled baddest man of boxing during our interview in Ramogoadi's office at the VIP Gym in the heart of Benoni.
"I had time to think about myself, you know? Incarceration is actually a place where spiritually (can blossom). It gives you time to open up to God and speak to Him about everything. Also inside there, nobody is judging you, unlike out here. Whether you are guilty or not, the guys are minding their own business and just having honest conversations."
And he had those with himself as well.
"I had time to reflect on my wrongs and the things I have to change. I've made some mistakes but there's a lot of things I've changed about myself.
“Mentally, I've definitely matured. In the past I used to act in haste and irrationally. But coming out I've found that I've slowed down. Obviously, I no longer do drugs. I've put aside using substances, although I've had a drink or two and I am not proud of that.
“But I am now able to confess my sins so that when someone judges me I can simply tell them to f*ck off."
Don't, however, misconstrue what Oosthuizen is saying to mean that prison was some cosy rehabilitation centre for the once revered lefty.
Far from it: "Those 10 months in there were not easy," he says, the earlier smiling demeanour now gone from his battle hardened, 33-year-old face "It was the toughest 10 months of my life, I tell you."
One would assume that given his boxing prowess, Tommy Gun would have made it without problems behind bars. The reality though is that being a champion boxer brought with it some unwarranted attention.
"Of course the guys tested me. It was like people were out to want to prove they could fuck up a champion boxer. But I went in there with an idea that I'd have to fight for myself, to protect myself. And I came out stronger because you really get tested inside there."
Oosthuizen looks across to his coach Ramogoadi as if to ask permission to go on.
"My coach here has tested me numerous times since we started working together and he will tell you what happens when I am tested. It is action, reaction and outcome. I don't have to go into detail about what happened inside (prison)."
I give him the look that says 'you've got to tell me bro'.
"Prison is actually an army base," he says.
"I actually think that our army system is a joke at the moment. If you want to go to the army, rather go to prison. I came out stronger because I was tested inside there. Of course I wasn't proud of what I had to do inside but there's a line of discipline you shouldn't let them cross. If you let someone push you around or you show some weakness, then the wolves would descend on you.
So, my trick was to bite off the biggest dog's head," he laughs and quickly adds, "we are smiling about it now, but the reality of it is not funny at all. It was very tough inside. There were nights when I had to be taken outside of the cells in the middle of the night full of blood, somebody else's blood because I'd beaten him to pieces. It's what it is, you have to fend for yourself."
Having someone's blood on his hands is something he has been doing long before his incarceration, albeit legally inside the boxing ring.
And how Thomas 'Tommy Gun' Oosthuizen would love to get back to doing so again in order to finally put those 'tough ten months" fully behind him.
* Read more of the interview with Thomas Oosthuizen in Saturday's publication nationwide.